How Cannabis Affects the Developing Brain

Keeping Kids Substance-Free

“You want to start to lay the foundation of healthy living and making good decisions…teach them about healthy diet, exercise, a good night's sleep, when to say no, how to stick up for themselves. These are all skills that they will utilize as they become adolescents and as they grow on to be adults.”
“I feel that far too often, we underestimate our children's ability to pick up on the world around them. They are always watching and seeing and processing. So then if they're seeing it, it's time to have that conversation.”
When cannabis is introduced to the developing brain, it unbalances the endocannabinoid system - which is supposed to keep the brain in balance and prevents the natural chemicals from doing their job. This video also highlights the difference between THC and CBD.

We know kids don’t learn in a vacuum — and that risky behaviors can run together. Kids are exposed to many risks — from alcohol to cannabis – and parents can arm their kids with the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy decisions by opening the lines of communication and starting conversations.

The Facts

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In 2019, nearly 12 percent of 8th grade students report using marijuana in the past year and almost seven percent used marijuana in the past 30-days.

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Since 1991, the perceived risk of smoking marijuana regularly has declined 31.5 percentage points (38% proportionally) from 83.8 percent in 1991 to 52.3 percent in 2019.

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In 2019, 62.3 percent of 8th graders disapprove of their peers trying marijuana and 76.7 percent disapprove of them smoking marijuana regularly.

Source: Monitoring the Future, 2019

A Note from School Counselor Phyllis Fagell

As a school counselor and health and wellness teacher in a K-8 school, I often field questions about the appropriateness of teaching preteens about cannabis. I understand parents’ instinct to delay the discussion until their child is older, but that’s not protective. It’s a missed opportunity, and it may even backfire.

If that seems counterintuitive, consider the developmental phase. Young adolescents are years away from having a fully formed prefrontal cortex and as a result they’re more likely to take unhealthy risks — and less likely to predict the consequences of their actions. They need their parents and teachers to arm them with good information, help them identify safe risks, and preview pressure-filled or tempting scenarios.

Tweens are getting bombarded daily with data — both accurate and inaccurate — from friends, the 24-7 news cycle and social media. That means they’re also getting subjected to a lot of bad information. Tweens hate to be manipulated, and adults can use that to their advantage by pointing out when others try to mislead them into believing that cannabis can’t harm their still-developing brain.

Cannabis can harm kids, but scare tactics are ineffective. The best way to reach a young adolescent is to honor their intellect, treat them as the expert in their own life, avoid lecturing, focus on developing their critical-thinking skills, and give them age-appropriate, factual information.

Prevention takes a village. Kids need their parents to talk to them about substance use as well. At home, approach your child from a stance of calm curiosity. You can ask, “What have you heard about cannabis?” or “Do you think you know more or less than what I think you know?” or “Do you think most kids think it’s dangerous to use cannabis?” Practice your poker face and stay nonreactive if they say something shocking. You want to make it safe for them to be honest and open.

I recognize that this entire topic may feel overwhelming — much like raising a tween! — but half the battle is being willing to have the conversation.

Phyllis L. Fagell

Phyllis L. Fagell

School Counselor and Author of “Middle School Matters”

> Read Next Knowing the Facts

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